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Oscar Klefbom has played more shifts (657) than anybody, five-on-five, plays the point on the league’s most dangerous power play, and is the first guy out on the second-ranked penalty-kill with an average shift of 57 seconds, with only Washington’s defenceman John Carlson staying out longer.
But in a 31-team league where there are only between 10 and 15 true No. 1 defenceman, depending on whether you feel Erik Karsson still has that resume or 20-year-old Miro Heiskanen in Dallas has played enough games for that tag yet, where does Klefbom fit?
He certainly drives the bus with the Edmonton Oilers but is he a true No. 1?
The list of legit No. 1s starts with Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman, and includes John Carlson, Roman Josi, Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Giordano, Brent Burns, Seth Jones and Shea Weber. People like Morgan Rielly, Kris Letang, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Heiskanen, Karlsson and rookie Cale Makar, in time, are debatable for various reasons.
“He’s an extremely smart D man, good in all areas … he has a lot of tools that define his name and his personality,” said his Swedish buddy Adam Larsson. “I feel he’s come into his own this year, some games he’s just dominated and from watching from the press box, you get a different angle on things.”
Is there a defenceman Klefbom’s starting to look like?
“That’s hard to say. He’s not flashy but he still plays PK, first PP. Maybe (Roman) Josi. I was kind of leaning that way. 0r a left-handed (Alex) Pietrangelo. It’s so hard to compare D in this league,” said Larsson.
“Josi and Pietrangelo. Whoa! Those are two good players,” said Klefbom.
“I’m trying to be myself, I guess.”
Through 24 games, of the top seven average shift leaders — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Alex Ovechkin, Carlson, Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane — Klefbom has played 82:27 short-handed, then 86:35 on the power play. Carlson has played 40:50 SH and 100.07 on the PP. Klefbom’s short-handed minutes are way more than anybody else on defence or forward. Carlson has played 464:39 even-strength minutes, Klefbom 453:25, so that’s pretty close.
He enjoys the special-teams work a lot. While Larsson’s return from his broken leg will possibly eat into some of Klefbom’s average short-handed minutes (3:26), he enjoys the challenge, although you don’t want him diving in front of shots and breaking a thumb like last year.
“You can see how other teams’ power plays work when you’re on the PK. I have an advantage to go against good players on other teams’ power plays so I know how they’re thinking,” he said. “It’s easier to play on the PP when you play PK.”
He’s averaging 25:56 a game, seven times going over 27 minutes, only once under 22.
But he’s not perceived to be a true No. 1, is he?
“Are there 30 real No. 1 guys? No, no,” said Klefbom.
Many scouts don’t consider him in that exclusive neighbourhood.
“For sure it’s a fair question. If you look at Drew Doughty, he’s been playing 27 minutes a night for I dunno how many years and been consistent. A guy like Viktor Hedman plays lots of minutes with a lot of responsibility. They’ve done a good job for so many years,” said Klefbom.
“Obviously I’m really happy with how the team’s playing and how I’m playing right now. Hopefully in five years I can keep it up. Maybe then there’s another discussion. I understand how they (assessors) have a different view with all the top D in the league now. It’s up the media and all the experts out there to compare Giordano or Josi or whatever,” he said.
In a perfect world, maybe he’s a No. 2 defenceman on a real Cup contender. Maybe he’s a second-unit PP guy behind Carlson in Washington but he can really shoot, and he gets the puck to the people who need it in Edmonton, McDavid and Draisaitl, which shows his playmaking ability. He’s not a true PK, throw-yourself-into-battle guy like Larsson or Kris Russell. Instead, he plays more like Jay Bouwmeester, using his feet, and long stick. The evaluators are coming around because he can play in any situation, and play against the other team’s best players.
“He’s a really good player, he closes the gaps, he can kill a cycle. There’s lots of smaller defenceman now but Klefbom is bigger and skates like a smaller guy. He knocks pucks off people,” said an NHL pro scout. “You don’t find too many defencemen who can do all three — five-on-five, killing penalties, on the power play.”
His coach Dave Tippett is coming in cold as his talent judge, but he’s had his eyes opened.
“It’s understated in how well he does lots of things. He’s not a top top player in the league but when you see him every day your appreciation grows. When you’re an opposing coach, you don’t dissect each player on the other team. When you’re seeing Oscar on the ice as much as he is, he must be doing some good things,” said Tippett.
“The night he played 31 minutes (San Jose), he didn’t look tired at all after the game,” said Larsson.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019